Founded in 1990 by writer Marita Golden and historian Clyde McElvene, the Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright Foundation celebrated their 24th year supporting African-Americans in literature at an annual awards gala at the Carnegie Library in Washington, DC.
For her 45-year career promoting social justice through her poetry, the Foundation honored Nikki Giovanni with the North Star Award. “She has been a determined witness and eloquent advocate of cultural change in America,” the judges said of their decision to fete the poet.
Fiction judges Dana Johnson, Tina McElroy Ansa, and A.J. Verdelle selected NoViolet Buluwayo’s debut We Need New Names for the Foundation’s Legacy Award. “We see NoViolet’s great characters, their entrapments, their miseries, their hungers and we also see ourselves,” they said. “It felt like an imperative read,” added Marita Golden, co-founder of the Hurston/Wright Foundation.
Craig Steven Wilder’s Ebony & Ivy: Race, Slavery, and the Troubled History of America’s Universities won the non-fiction prize, with judges Amy Alexander, Sheryll Cashin, and Fredrick C. Harris specifically calling out Wilder’s exposure of “the blood-soaked ties between slavery and high education and higher education in America.”
Amaud Jamaul Johnson’s poetry collection Darktown Follies was recognized for “balanc[ing] the false and ugly with the beauty and truths” of Black Vaudeville and minstrel shows.
“I think it is a great time to be a black writer,” Golden said, according to The Washington Post. “If a publisher says no, you can say, ‘Yes,’ and self-publish…..As long as there are cultural organizations like Hurston/Wright, as far as I’m concerned, the glass is not half full, but it is overflowing for black writers.”